14 Questions to Ask Before You Renew Your IT Support Contract
You walk into your office tomorrow. Before you can get a cup of coffee, one of your managers tells you that your IT service contract is going to expire in two months.
You've been frustrated with poor service and technology for months. Now, you have an opportunity to improve the situation. Your IT manager stands at the ready with a few recommended IT service providers. Are you equipped to sort through the options and call them?
Before you sign on the dotted line to renew your IT service contract, go through these questions. Investing an hour today could save you months of effort, risk and frustration.
Stage 1: Start With The Fundamentals
An effective IT support contract needs to cover these solutions.
What service levels are defined in the contract and do they suit my needs?
Some executives value the ability to pick up the phone, make a call and have a technician solve their problem within a few hours. Others are happy to pay a lower price even if it means a slower response time. If responsiveness is highly important to you, define these expectations in the contract.
What contract penalties exist for poor performance?
In order for the contract to have "teeth", you need to have clear and easy to understand penalties for inadequate performance. Nobody likes to think about the project going wrong. However, this is right time to discuss your expectations and put them into the contract.
What protections are provided for cybersecurity and privacy?
Your customers trust you with their confidential data. In order to fulfill those expectations, you need to review the contract for security and privacy protection. If you are in a highly regulated industry such as financial services, spend extra time and care on this topic. Ask the IT support provider how they will protect your data.
Tip: Read guidance from the UK's Information Commissioner's Office for tips on the fundamentals of IT security.
Are the invoices and prices easy to understand?
Receiving and paying invoices should be easy for your staff to manage. To support your staff, make sure that pricing in the contract is clear. Each service should have one price and these should match to the invoice. To keep prices clear, ask to put all prices on a separate schedule in an easy to read table.
Do you have a line of sight on "pass-through" invoices and expenses?
You need your contract with your IT support provider to clearly explain "pass-through" expenses. For example, your service provider uses a specialised backup facility to support your company. In that case, the contract ought to require such services to be disclosed for your review.
Tip: Ask for copies of the third party's invoices so you can check if any markup or management fees applied are reasonable.
Stage 2: Check For Professionalism And Technology
Use these questions to determine to assess the professionalism of your IT support provider.
What technology gaps does your current IT service provider have?
Few IT service providers can claim to support every technology and device on the market. As an executive, you need to decide where you can live with gaps and where you absolutely need support. A professional provider will not be shy about explaining their strengths and what lies outside their area of specialisation.
Tip: Ask your IT manager to prepare a list of the technology and IT services you need to run your business and indicate what would happen if those services went down for 1-5 days. These services will be on your "must-have" list for IT support.
Are IT services provided by certified staff?
A simple mistake by a technician or engineer could wipe out months or years of data. At the same time, you don't want to micro-manage your IT support provider either. How can you be confident that you're dealing with competent professionals? The solution is simple: ask IT support provider about the professional certifications held by their staff. This is a simple way to guarantee a baseline level of knowledge and professionalism with your IT support.
What security and background checks are used to check staff?
IT specialists have access to vast amounts of information and the opportunity to exploit this access. To reduce this risk, request the IT support provider to carry out background checks on all staff who serve your company.
Tip: Find out more about the DBS checks that your IT support provider can request as an employer.
What awards and recognition has the company won?
This question prompts you to explore whether you are doing business with a leading company or a mediocre firm. For example – many of the best IT support companies hold Microsoft Gold certifications. If your company uses Microsoft products (e.g. Windows and Microsoft Office), it makes sense to seek out an IT support provider who has achieved excellence in supporting those products.
Do they offer a dedicated engineer or technician for your account?
For an additional fee, some IT support providers will assign a dedicated engineer to your company. The main advantage is that you have a support person who will learn your expectations and needs in greater depth.
Note: In the event that you have a personality conflict or other problem with the assigned technician, request the right to request a different person.
Stage 3: Reviewing The Contract Design Contract Questions
Does the IT provider's insurance coverage truly cover your needs?
If your website or customer database fails, you could face significant lost revenue. Just imagine what the CEO will ask you if that happens! Most likely, you will face several questions including "Does the provider's insurance cover something like this?" Conversely, if the provider overloads the contract with too much insurance coverage, this is your time to question those costs. Make sure you understand what is in scope for insurance coverage.
Remember: directly or indirectly, the client ultimately pays for insurance and other costs.
What is the contract cancellation process?
Face facts – you may need to part ways with your IT service provider. Or they may decide to stop serving clients like you. To manage this risk, check to see if the contract has a termination or cancellation process. Make sure the required noticed period (e.g. 30, 60 or more days) is sufficient for you to make alternate arrangements. Further, make sure there are provisions requiring the provider to safely destroy all of your confidential data and information.
Does the IT support provider use third parties or providers to provide services?
Some IT support providers sign large contracts and then outsource all of the actual work to other organisations. As an executive, you need to understand the risks of those arrangements. For example, are third parties engaged by your IT support provider required to carry insurance and professional certifications?
For listed companies: has the company passed specialised IT audits?
If you are an executive at a publicly listed company, you have special considerations to keep in mind. Your shareholders expect that you manage operational risk. One of the best ways to address this risk is to request that the IT service provider pass a specialised audit like AAF 01/06 (similar to the U.S. SAS 70 audit report).
Resource: For additional details on the internal controls audit known as AAF 01/06, read this resource - Assurance on internal controls of services organisations (AAF 01/06).
Your Next Step:
If you have gone through these questions with your managers and don't like the answers you have, contact HTL Support for a free assessment of IT support needs. You owe it to your company to manage risk by working with professional companies.